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Video Published: 30 Sep 2022

An Oral History with Stephen Wadsworth

On March 29th, 2022, director and arts administrator Stephen Wadsworth sat down with OPERA America's President/CEO Marc A. Scorca for a conversation about opera and their life.

This interview was originally recorded on March 29th, 2022. 
The Oral History Project is supported by the Arthur F. and Alice E. Adams Charitable Foundation. 

Stephen Wadsworth, director and arts administrator

For over 40 years Stephen Wadsworth has been a profoundly influential figure in American opera as a stage director, teacher, and writer. His productions of plays and operas have redefined classical style for a generation – from his indelible “green” Ring in Seattle to his much-loved translation and production of Handel’s Xerxes. His 30-year association with Seattle Opera yielded eleven productions, and he was Co-Artistic Director of the Skylight Opera Theater with Francesca Zambello from 1982-1990. He has taught acting to several generations of singers – for 38 years at the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and for 15 at the Juilliard School as architect and Director of the advanced training Artist Diploma in Opera Studies program.

Oral History Project

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Marc A. Scorca: Thank you so much for being with us, Stephen Wadsworth. I'm really grateful for you taking the time with us today. I always start my interviews with a question of who brought you to your first opera?

Stephen Wadsworth: My parents had gone to see what was then a new production of Don Giovanni at the old Met - Eugene Berman production. Herbert Graf directed and Berman designed it, and they just loved it. My Mom had been a standee in the late '40's after getting out of college, and my dad had not particularly gone to the opera, although in his family, there was a tradition of opera goers and my great grandmother, who was born in 1868, went to Faust in the first season of the old Met in 1883. It was her 16th birthday or 15th birthday or something. And she had been a subscriber since there were subscriptions and she lived on Broadway, but in Hastings New York, but it was the same Broadway. She came in on a horse and carriage and it took them five hours and they'd come into the city on one day, and spent the night and go see the opera on the next day. So there was a history of music lovers. She was an amateur singer, an alto who sang Lieder. She grew up in a German speaking household. But they took me to see this Giovanni. They said, "Let's take the boys," my older brother and myself, and I was five. And we went in 1959, and we saw this cast of Cesare Siepi and Fernando Corena, Eleanor Steber, Lisa Della Casa, Roberta Peters, Theodor (Ted) Uppman, Cesare Valletti...I mean a real sort of golden age. And it was Karl Böhm conducting

Marc A. Scorca: Amazing.

Stephen Wadsworth: Apparently, I was riveted by it and we had an hour to drive out to Mount Kisco, New York where I grew up and my brother went clonking off to sleep, and I apparently just could not stop asking questions or telling about the parts that were the blue light when the Commendatore came in and the red light for the fire. And I was just very taken with the whole thing. And it was the first piece of live theater I'd ever seen in my life.

Marc A. Scorca: So, of course it would make a great impression. Would you call that your galvanizing opera moment or is there a later opera moment that really galvanized you as someone who really was determined to work in this field?

Stephen Wadsworth: You know, I think that was the galvanizing moment, because after that, I was extremely open to it. My parents took the opportunity...they would create vacations around going to an opera somewhere. And we even went one year to Europe when I was 10. And it was 1963 in Salzburg, and I saw that famous Trovatore with (Herbert von) Karajan and Leontyne Price and Franco Corelli and (Giulietta) Simionato and (Ettore) Bastianini. And I have little clip memories of all of those performances that I saw. Figaro with (Dietrich) Fischer-Dieskau as the Count, and Evelyn Lear as Cherubino and a young Lorin Maazel conducting, he was still in his twenties. Rosenkavalier with (Elisabeth) Schwarzkopf and the Verdi Requiem with Leontyne Price and Karajan. Moving from one thing to another, there were many memorable experiences of these performers and performances, and of these works of art which I just burrowed in to. It was sort of the thing that I took to, before I had any awareness of things being cool or uncool.

Marc A. Scorca: Or the concept of career or anything like that.

Stephen Wadsworth: I gather, I used to think that I was gonna be a conductor, 'cause I would sit by the big speakers on the Saturday afternoon broadcast, and listen to that and sort of move my hands in what I thought was an appropriate way. I didn't know. There were many experiences along the way, which made me feel that this was something that I needed to do. I remember when I decided to really become a director.

Marc A. Scorca: No, let me get to that one second, 'cause I've known you since the mid 1970's, and if I remember correctly, I attended, was it a vocal recital of yours? And I remember attending early scenes from you as a director, but my immediate contact with you was as a writer. So I'm thinking about this multiphrenic personality that was writer/singer/stage director. You experimented with all facets of it.

Stephen Wadsworth: Yeah, I did. I think probably what I was born to do in this world was be an actor. I think that's what I was. I think it was the biggest natural talent that I had. And I did that all through school and high school and college as well, but I only lasted two years at college before I left to seek my fortune. And part of that was going to Opera News and saying, "I have all this weird knowledge; I never forget anything I learn about a singer. It's kind of a drag to be me, unless I can be useful. Put me on the copy desk." And I remember taking in about eight copies of Opera News, in which I had marked all the mistakes. Typos, grammatical problems, singer people saying that this singer sang this in this year and blah, blah, blah...wrong. So I showed those to the then-editor, and he was like, "Maybe we do have room on our copy desk." Very soon after a position opened: assistant editor. So I was able to do that. But meanwhile, I thought "Maybe I'll be an actor who sings 'cause I loved singing. I don't think I was ever very good at it. I don't think I got good enough at it, soon enough for my own liking. At that point, I wasn't sort of connected in the business, in a way that took me to the people who really would've been able to say either: "Don't do this," or "If you're gonna do it, go to these people." So, I eventually let that go because the writing part of it was exciting, and I got to cultivate that and during that time I also tried my hand at directing a bunch of scenes, which you saw. And several people came up to me after those things and said, "You're good at this," as opposed to the comments after my recital, which were, "Eh, you have a nice voice and some of it is beyond you and blah, blah." And I was feeling the same way. I was just feeling like this isn't sounding like I would like to sound. And I also knew that I wanted to operate at a high level of achievement and with the best, if I could.

Marc A. Scorca: And I'm fascinated, and I want to capture it, because I've heard you describe before the ascent of your work as a stage director and how you started out by asking friends to just let you direct a scene, and I saw your vocal recital in some small hotel ballroom, and I think I saw your first directing scenes in some small hotel ballroom on the upper west side. So how did you get started?

Stephen Wadsworth: Well, I think it was through, what later turned into a little company called The Opera Ensemble of New York, TOENY. It was John Sheehan and the late Ruth Bierhoff was the music director. And she was a coach who I had worked with, and who played at the studio of my then vocal teacher. And so she was like, "I really wanna do some kind of a program. Would you be interested? We could do some scenes,” and we called it Opera in Progress. And we did two evenings of staged scenes with costumes, and I think I was in the second act finale of Figaro, I think we did that. But I directed all of them and that was fun too. I liked doing that, and the feedback after that from some directors who were there and of course it was great that I was working at Opera News during that time, because I knew people and I got to like people and I would say, "Come and see this." So people would come out and they would make comments, and I got a little bit of that sense of "Don't do this; go here; this is good; don't go this way, go that way." And the response to the scenes was very specific from directors going, "You have an eye; your staging is really interesting; you have a sense; you work with the music; there's something really worth knowing more about there." And so I heard them, but I didn't direct a show until...I decided first off that what I needed to learn before I could direct a show, was how to get an actor's performance out of the actor, instead of - as it were - playing the role myself, because I always thought like an actor. So I would say, "The Countess might be feeling any one of these things, and she might actually take this action or she might...she could be..." I would be thinking about all the options for every character, which I still do in preparing something, getting to know it. So I needed to separate that. I didn't wanna be a director who told singers, "Do this; feel this; this is what it is." I wanted to be able to have a more collaborative relationship because I thought that seemed like what great directors who were able to do. When I was growing up - great directors - it was really about telling a story on actors, the way a choreographer sets a ballet on a dancer. It was actor-based, actor-centric theater. Now it's become a much more - has many more heads - the beast, but I felt the center of the experience of theater was the people.

Marc A. Scorca: Did you apprentice at any point to a major director and you assisted that great director in that production in Tokyo and that one in Vienna.

Stephen Wadsworth: No, I never assisted. I never had a directing teacher. I think I had a really good feeling for the actual art of blocking, of staging and how you could stage stories. And to this day, the most moving part of work for me as a director in the room is the disposition of the bodies on the stage. How are they angled? How are they thinking? Are they open to each other? Are they close to each other? And what patterns do they move in? And how do you tell the story of every single one of them coherently and clearly, when a bunch of them are on stage? Or when one of them is on stage or two of them. But I was particularly interested in ensemble staging. Right from the beginning, I loved scenes that had several things going on in them. That sort of emotional complexity was something that I felt like I had a lot of experience with in my life, and learning a craft so that I could tell the stories of these intimacies gone wrong, and complex relationships with as much clarity as possible: (that) became my first real goal as a director.

Marc A. Scorca: How did your appointment, in your 20's, as artistic director at Skylight come to be?

Stephen Wadsworth: That came to be because Skylight was in a terrible way, and the board was having trouble feeling like they could sustain it. It was a teeny operation in a tire recapping garage with 250 seats and posts in all the wrong places. But I had done my first professional show there, a (Coronation of) Poppea, and it went great. I invited all these people and I remember Shirley Fleming said, "I'll come. I'll be out there in Chicago and I'll come up and I'll see it." And so a bunch of people that I was in touch with through my job at Opera News, my day job, (though) by that time I had quit Opera News, but everybody knew about it. That was the benefit of having had that job is that it was a good thing. And then everybody saw the reviews and the next thing I knew, I had Columbia Artists asking me to be on their roster. But the way I got the job was that Peter Kazaras, my oldest friend since college had been offered the part of Nero by an old college friend who ran the Skylight, Colin Cabot, and Colin said, "Who should direct it?" And Peter said, "Stephen should direct it." And so that's how that came to be.

Marc A. Scorca: I didn't know those college connections.

Stephen Wadsworth: So I went out there and I did that show. And then about a year later, I did the Monteverdi Orfeo. And right in that period is where Colin called me, despairing and said, "The board's having a hard time figuring out how to sustain the company." And I said, "What if I called Francesca Zambello?" Because she had also done a show or two there and had success. I didn't even know her. “(But perhaps we could) figure out if maybe she would feel like I do, which is, it would be great to have a place where I could experiment and we could be, pro bono, artistic directors. We're sort of plugged into young singers. And it would be such a great learning experience, I'm sure for both of us, in whatever ways. Let me call her. And then maybe we could do that. And then you (Colin) wouldn't have to be thinking about artistic director and could focus more on the management of the theater and raising money and whatever else." So eventually that did happen. I called 'Cesca and said, "We both had this thing here. Is this worth thinking about?" And ultimately we decided to do it. So without any pay, except for what we made on a production, which was not much, we started as co-artistic directors and we started to build an ensemble and learn lots of lessons about producing, about directing, about casting, all sorts of things. It was invaluable.

Marc A. Scorca: Skylight really was the testing ground. That was the laboratory for you.

Stephen Wadsworth: Yeah, it really was. The other laboratory, I have to say, artistically was teaching, because I knew I wanted to be a teacher, and I knew I wanted to be a director, and I knew I wanted to write, and I thought this is probably smart, because I already had a feeling that I might overload pretty easily, if I directed too much. I could play these three careers, as it were, off against one another. And when I felt like I was kind of maxing out on one, I would then retreat to the classroom or I would take a writing project or something would come up. And that way I had a built-in variety that kept me stimulated on a few fronts.

Marc A. Scorca: Like Birgit Nilsson singing Mozart, it kept the voice fresh.

Stephen Wadsworth: I'll never forget talking to her about Donna Anna. She said, "I don't know why they always wanted me to sing it, but I always sang it terribly out of tune. I was always sharp. Listen to the recordings. I made two of them. They wanted two recordings; it was so awful, I don't know why they wanted even one." But, yes it kept me in a good, fresh state of mind, so that when I went back to direct an opera, after taking six months off...I didn't have to direct too much, too soon. So it did keep it fresher, and the teaching developed apace. And so did the directing and the writing also. I had some wonderful breaks. I got the break with the chance to write with Bernstein and that, of course led...

Marc A. Scorca: Exactly, exactly.

Stephen Wadsworth: But what I had learned at Opera News about writing...I was a good writer. I had won a big national English prize when I was a high school senior. We had two weeks of testing all day and they chose one person from each school. And we did a lot of writing, and I felt comfortable and fluent writing, mostly because of the way I had been educated by fantastic English teachers, whose emphasis was on critical thinking, but also writing it out. So that was invaluable. The writing thing was a talent and it was a talent that I was able to cultivate, both in my education and then in my sort of postgrad, which was Opera News, being an editor and looking at everybody's work and commissioning work and writings: a lot of articles, a lot of profiles, which got me in touch with a lot of fantastic singers. I did a piece on Janet Baker; I did a piece on Birgit Nilsson; I talked with Leontyne Price; I did Régine Crespin; I did Evelyn Lear; I did Lotte Lenya. I mean really fantastically, interesting people. I was also doing profiles for The New York Times every now and then, and for the program magazines on the west coast, San Francisco Opera.

Marc A. Scorca: And you get to know a lot of people that way.

Stephen Wadsworth: It was so wonderful and I became quite close with a number of those people, Lenya, particularly, but also Evelyn Lear, and I also had done at the same time, a story on Tom (Thomas) Stewart, her husband. Both of them, amazing performing creatures.

Marc A. Scorca: So let me ask you about some of your exploration, I will say, and perhaps with one foot in the academy, thinking about Escalus, but more within the framework of your fascination clearly with the French literature of Molière, Beaumarchais, Pierre de Marivaux. What is it about that French literature of two centuries ago that so captivates you?

Stephen Wadsworth: Interestingly, I had moved into the 1720's and 1730's long before I got involved with Marivaux through Handel, who was writing in London, as Marivaux was writing in Paris, and both with an interesting kind of cultural disconnect. I mean, Handel was writing Italian operas for English speaking people, and he was German. Marivaux was writing French plays for an Italian troupe, all of whom (except for one) had been born in Italy and spoke with heavy accents. And he's now thought of as the consummately French writer - and he is. But something about the period (that) drew me is that Handel operas when I was a kid...they had just started to record some of them and I don't know why exactly, but I found the music...it seemed to express exactly who I was. I felt so in sync with it, and it was just a world of beautiful consideration of human beings. And after I got onto Marivaux, and realized that they were total contemporaries, and that there I was, again, coming at these two decades from yet another place... I realized that it was something about the period that interests me: early enlightenment thinking, which really is - and I figured it out eventually - about 10 years ago, I realized, "Oh, this is about my country, which was born because of what people were beginning to organize their thoughts around, in terms of social structures, economic structures, and humanity, and just what science had proposed to The Academy in the 17th century, which is that you could have a giant Redwood and you could have a little Bonsai tree, but they were both trees. They weren't different species, and the same was true for human beings of whatever type, background, color: all people were, from the scientific point of view, created equal.” And it was social structures and economic structures that created inequality. And I think it was really during all of the Bush years. I'm a liberal Democrat, so I wasn't on board with those presidencies and Reagan was the first time that I began to get really nervous about, "Wait a minute: what is our country supposed to be about? Is it really this?" And so I came to consciousness, and the soundtrack was Handel, and eventually the plays of Marivaux came along but it did take me a while to understand that what I was doing was inquiring into American heritage, and the relationship of France and America was deeply symbiotic in the eighteenth century. Franklin went over there, and Tom Payne went...

Marc A. Scorca: Thomas Jefferson...

Stephen Wadsworth: Right. And Lafayette came over here, and there was a significant exchange, and when it came to the period of the revolution and Franklin went over to secure the help of the French, which was a very dicey thing, because they were always in an unpleasant competition with the English, but they didn't wanna start yet another war, and meanwhile, Figaro had been playing in my head since I was six years old. And I began to understand all of it, a lot better. I mean, Giovanni was the first thing I ever saw live in a theater, maybe ever in a theater; I don't think I'd been to a movie before that. So it came together in a way. And I began to understand that this had a lot to do with the draw. Of course, just the purely aesthetic considerations are so seductive and beautiful in themselves that that would be enough.

Marc A. Scorca: Connect for me, your association with Handel and the Baroque/early Classical, and, and your landmark production of Wagner's Ring cycle, and your ability to bring the Wagner storytelling so wonderfully into the theater - a completely different aesthetic. And yet you connected with Wagner, I think, as profoundly as you connected with Handel. Is there a bridge there, or is it just the coexistence of two extremes?

Stephen Wadsworth: I remember Peter Sellers said to me once, "Oh yeah, Handel and Wagner. You do all the long, hard stuff." But there was a period for like eight years where the only opera I directed was either by Handel or Wagner, which is so weird. Now I didn't grow up in a Wagnerian household. My parents didn't like Wagner, whatever that meant. They just didn't have time for it, and it was maybe a little too complicated and they didn't go there. They loved Trovatore; they loved Butterfly; they loved all the Mozarts; they loved Rosenkavalier (which) was about as German as they were ready to go, (as well as) Magic Flute, Fidelio. So I had to really listen...I remember listening to George London's record of 'Die Frist ist um' from the Dutchman and going, "Now I'm just gonna listen to this until I begin to get a sense of it. It is so different. It's not rum-ti-tum Verdi. It's in no way obvious to my young ears...I need to listen until I begin to understand how to hear it." And this was all when I was like 12 or 13, and I decided Wagner was the unclimbed mountain I needed to know more, and my parents were clearly not going to be taking me to any Wagner operas. So, really the reason I came to it is that I had a long association in Seattle with Speight Jenkins, and he's a great Wagnerian. And after I first went there and did Jenůfa, in really what was his first or second season, it didn't take long for him to turn around and offer me Dutchman. And, at that point, it was so great to have someone who was interested in my work and who would say, "Take a look at this piece. I think it would be interesting if you looked at this piece." What a great thing. So I did different repertoire there that I didn't worry about, whether it was something that I was gonna be known for or anything. I just thought if it's a good piece and it speaks to me, I'll do that. But I think something else had happened. I first went there in '85. Well, I guess in '92, I directed a play for the first time professionally at the McCarter Theater. Those three or four years with that amazing producing team of Emily Mann and Mara Isaacs, (who's a producer of Hadestown, for example), she was on staff there and Loretta Greco, who's at the Magic Theater now: fantastic women and Janice Paran above all was a great dramaturg (and is still). These women really came in and looked at my work and said, "What is that moment? What is that moment? What is that moment? That's not happening? This isn't happening. I'm looking at shapes. I'm not seeing the scene," or "I wish there were more shapes there," or, whatever, but really giving me notes and producing me down to every run-through. And it was fantastic. And I think I learned what was left to learn about being a director in those years at McCarter. So by the time Speight turned around and had offered me Lohengrin, which was '94, I felt like I went into Lohengrin, having just done the second of the Marivaux plays thinking, "Okay, there were only eight people on the Marivaux stage and every one of them was specific in every single instant." And it was just exactly the way it should be. I said, "I've gotta do that with Lohengrin, even though there are a hundred chorus and principals and extras and what have you, so I had my work cut out for me. But by that time, I had developed a lot of technique, and the technique was all...I worked with these great designers, who really helped me cultivate my own tastes and learn more about each element of craft, but by the time I got to that Lohengrin, I felt I could direct anything. If you wanted me to direct - what did it matter whether it's a Neil Simon play, or whether it's The Ring or whether it's The Oresteia or whether it's Long Day's Journey into Night, or whether it's a new opera or a new play? I think once you learn how to direct, you can direct, and once you've directed The Oresteia and The Ring, there's nothing much you can't direct. The Ring came along after Lohengrin, 'cause when I was doing the Lohengrin the first time in '94, I said to Speight, "I feel like I'm walking around right on top of The Ring. I feel like the way Wagner is writing here and starting to work motivacally...I'm just getting a sense of what The Ring is." And I knew that he was planning a new Ring. So I said, "I will only say this once, but I'm throwing my hat in the ring. I would be interested in doing that," shocking myself, but mostly my beloved hilarious father who I called when Speight offered me The Ring. And I said, "Dad, I got great news." And he said, "What?" "I'm gonna direct The Ring cycle." "When?" "2001". "Good; maybe I'll be dead, and I won't have to see it." But then of course he called me back 20 minutes later, "I'm so sorry. That sounded so glib. I'm very happy for you. And we will, of course, come and we will do our homework." And by the time they'd seen that Ring a few times, they loved The Ring, and they listened to it at home, and the whole nine yards.

Marc A. Scorca: You have just described kind of a pair of producing teams. You're a wonderful team at McCarter and Speight, who was thinking about you as an artist and saying, "You should try this; think about this." You would define then, in a great producer, as someone who is with you in pulling out of you your best of thinking about what comes next for you. Finally, how do you create an amalgam definition here of a great producer?

Stephen Wadsworth: Well, I think those things are a real interest in the artists and what they can do and what they might do is an essential thing for a producer. But I also think the producer is the head curator and the way it shakes down mostly now in the opera world, is that the general manager hires a director to curate, as the lead artist and with a conductor, and God forbid they should actually get along, because very often they're either completely at odds or they just do their best to sort of not get too into what the other one is doing. But I've always thought that you wanted to have a sort of Gesamtkunstwerk and you wanted to have it in the rehearsal room; you wanna have a collaboration and you wanna really be able to work into things, and with everybody present. Another thing about an essential thing for a great producer is that the producer is herself or himself, a curator, someone who has a deep interest in the repertoire and knowledge of it, and even an agenda for it. Like, "I think it's important that we do this piece," and I feel as Speight did when he came to The Ring for the third time, he said, "I wanna do a green Ring. I don't know what that means," he said, and he wrote to four American directors with whom he'd been working and asked us all to write about that. Well, I wrote this deranged 15 page thing. I remember writing it on a transcontinental flight and just getting so into it; it was so fun. And I was lucky enough to get that assignment, but that came from Speight. Speight's notion that I might be a storyteller useful to Wagner was really the driving force of that Ring. And then of course I got my own get-up-and-go, because it was so thrilling, but we met as a team. It was Tom (Thomas) Lynch, the set designer; the late Martin Pakledinaz, costume designer; Peter Kaczorowski, the lighting designer. This was my team for 25 years. There was never a week when we weren't talking about something we were gonna do, and Speight - in the room. We all went out to Seattle for 10 days. And we met morning til night, every day and worked through ideas about how we could conceive and show the story, scenically and in terms of actors. And I said to Speight, "Listen, you can't make any offers without asking me first. We wanna get the people that we feel are gonna be open and can go on the ride in whatever way." So he did that with me, and we always did that. He would find people and then he would always say, "What do you think about this person?" And so that was a fantastic thing. It was really being given a lot of freedom, but also having this incredibly intrusive, but never invasive...he was always present. He came to all the rehearsals. He would say, "Well, now, why does Ortrud do that? I just don't understand why she's standing at the wall over there." And I would think "What a fantastic thing that he's here, and that he has this question," and I would either say, "Don't worry, I'll show you," or "You know, you're right," or whatever. And I had the most in depth, the finest possible producing. I simply can't imagine how people can get on without having the experience that I had at the McCarter. They were hard on me, but it was incredible. And I had to put my new script, my new translation of a three act play, and we had to do it in three and a half weeks. And we only had three or maybe four previews to sort things out. And those preview nights you'd get to the end of the performance, you'd be so fried and they'd all sit down and they'd start telling you things that weren't working. And it wasn't that I didn't realize that, or didn't agree, but there was a mandate that they put forward, which was, "We're gonna get this right. And we're gonna do it for you, because we believe you have a vision here that is special. And we've never seen work like this before. And we wanna make sure that it connects with the actors, connects with the audience immediately." So that was incredible.

Marc A. Scorca: Let's get back to The Ring cycle. And I always told people for the 15 years it was in existence, that if you need to go see a first Ring cycle, you've got to see this one as the first Ring cycle, because so many Ring cycles take a very interpretive approach to it, the interpretive approaches can obscure the basic story, and the story's hard enough; you need some help getting through it. And your Ring cycle just was so generous in giving the audience the story of The Ring cycle. And what was it that in this age of interpretation of everything, that led you into that just storytelling approach?

Stephen Wadsworth: Well, I grew up thinking that directing was telling a story on actors. And the story is the key thing. Now, deconstructive work started a little bit after I'd been directing, so the whole idea of taking a sort of aesthetic given, like a big German opera, and you're living in Germany and you've seen it a million times and then suddenly that needs to be exploded. And so the dynamite happens. We rethink, we look at it from the inside, we pull it apart. It doesn't necessarily get put back together perfectly. But we begin to take an alternate view, which allows us to be more freely interpretive. But it's based on a sort of cultural knowledge of what that is. I used to say (that) it's like Shakespeare, but it's not like Shakespeare in America anymore, because most people haven't even seen Hamlet. That wasn't the case when I was a kid. I think theater was more in the mainstream in the last hundred years, or more than in the last 25. But in any case the difference of approach is something that I felt was earned by a knowledge of what it was. And I said, "Everybody in the world is doing crackpot Rings with lots of cool, different ways of going in,” and Speight had, in fact, done François Rochais', which was very sort of Dada. There was a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. And there was all sorts of juxtapositions, culturally and scenically and things, which were very interesting. I really loved going to see that Ring. But I thought what would be really good at that point was a Ring which Wagner would recognize if he walked into the theater. Not meaning that it was old-fashioned, because we had all this incredible technology that we could make those hills and grassy knolls and trees with, but then to really look at the relationships and the characters themselves through a sort of sophisticated post Stanislavski, and in a way, American from the inside out, like let's consider these characters and their motivations and their feelings and the different ways in which the scene might go. I found that, in terms of the actual telling of what happens there was more radical reinterpretation in our Ring. It told the story clearly, but it also told a lot more than the story, just the relationship between Fricka and Wotan for example, was something that was often remarked on, and I think with reason, because we rethought that whole scene. Even Speight was like, "Well, Fricka is a nag at the beginning." And I was like (disagreeing), "Fricka is the moral center of the first half of The Ring, and in a sense remains the moral center." So if she's actually right in Rheingold, we have to look a lot more closely at Wotan and his relationships, and we have to really figure out what's right and what's wrong, which is one of the basic things that any great story is about. So we did have a chance to go in, in depth and really consider the way those relationships might actually work, moment to moment.

Marc A. Scorca: Interesting to me that the two young co-artistic directors of Skylight wound up going to direct their own Ring cycles. It is quite wonderful that your trajectories went in that way to allow you both to do a Ring cycle.

Stephen Wadsworth: We were definitely a dynamic duo. There was no question when I met Cesca that she was going places, no question. I didn't feel I was necessarily going places. I always felt like I was stuck inside this artistic mist, trying to get out and find the road, but I was swirling around in there and getting somewhere.

Marc A. Scorca: I think you went somewhere great. As we approach the end of our time today, I come back to the fact that one of the threads of your life is teaching, and that you are in constant touch with young people, for whom the world has changed dramatically, since we were young people. When you're giving advice to the young singer or the young stage director, what advice do you give these days?

Stephen Wadsworth: In teaching, I'm predominantly concerned with technique, so what I'm working on with young directors is developing technique. That's mostly, at this point through my work, we have one directing fellow a year at vocal arts at Juilliard, and we've now had 10, and we've sent out some really interesting people who are beginning to make their names. And then singers has been, 40 some odd years of The Met from before The Met had an organized program, Jimmy Levine brought me in there and said, "Do the thing you do." And I taught independently. Initially I rented a studio at the Ansonia, and just called up a bunch of singers I knew and said, "Come and let me try directing a scene." I think a preoccupation of mine in mentoring anybody, is to remember your career is part of your life. It's not the other way around; your life is not part of your career. And down to the simplest artistic choices: what arias are you putting on your list, or what pieces do you say yes to, or no to; making choices that feel that they resonate with you, and that they are going to enhance the quality of your lived experience. There's so many hardships for singers and directors. There's so much travel and separation and all of these difficulties and just the plain uncertainty about career from one moment to the next, and at certain points in your life when changes occur, the main thing is that you keep as your north star wellbeing, happiness and that you make sure that you learn how to do your work and do your practice in a way that enhances; it makes your life feel better every time you do it. I think that's probably the deepest advice that I could give everybody. It doesn't matter what your trade is, but it's especially difficult in a trade, where these people are peripatetic and we're artists; we're all complicated. We have people trucking around lots of anxieties and fears and everything else, just like everybody does, but putting them all out there and being vulnerable to whatever the reaction is, whether it's critics or an audience that clap more for the person before you. Just all the things that can momentarily throw a person off. And so I have knocks at my door and texts every single day of the last 15 years, when I've been on the regular faculty at Juilliard and teaching full time. But for when I go off and do a show, it's managing anxiety and managing fear and managing expectation, and with the technical work and the work in the class, always trying to support and encourage who that person (is), actually, not who they wanna be, but who they actually are, and getting them to articulate, and re-articulate the ways in which they think they might have something to say and what it is that they want to say. And how does that change since last year and what are they now thinking about, and connecting with the world around them.

Marc A. Scorca: It's great advice.

Stephen Wadsworth: And really now, I think of myself, almost principally as a teacher. Most of my time now, I'm directing less and I have a daughter who's 11 and I wanna be around her. I wanna be there for her. So, at the moment, teaching (for the last of 10 years) has been the main deal while I built up this program. Now it's built, and it may be time to take a look at the balance of things and let things shift focus a little bit.

Marc A. Scorca: And while your voice is still fresh. It is so good to see you, and so good to speak with you.